Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences are open-ended, so those given them have no end date for release. They were created in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, diluted somewhat in 2008 legislation and then discontinued in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. But IPP was never abolished retrospectively even though it was much discredited.
To this day, more than 3,000 people remain in prison under IPP policy and practice. Shockingly, over 600 of these prisoners have served more than ten years longer than the sentence length they were originally given by the court (the so-called tariff). And 74 people have taken their own lives while serving an IPP sentence.
In the words of Lord Garnier, a former government minister, speaking in a House of Lords debate on the policy of IPP sentences: ‘Let us strike out now and clear its foul stench from our justice system.’
A report by the House of Commons Justice Committee described IPP as ‘irredeemably flawed’ and called for wholesale reform, including a resentencing exercise for those still under the IPP regime. This would involve converting all existing IPP sentences into determinate sentences with an agreed end-date. The Committee called on the government to act swiftly and decisively to implement its recommendations. To read its report, go to https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/102/justice-committee/news/173280/justice-committee-finds-ipp-sentences-irredeemably-flawed-and-calls-for-comprehensive-resentencing-programme/.
However, there are strong human rights arguments to go further. Apart from affecting the prisoners’ mental health, not having a release date makes life immensely difficult for their families, especially children. An important case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 5(1) (right to liberty and security) with respect to three men who had been given IPPs. Moreover, the ECHR noted that ‘a real opportunity for rehabilitation was a necessary element of any part of the detention which was to be justified solely by reference to public protection.’ Lack of resources in prisons combined with the pandemic periods of lockdown mean that it has been even more difficult to access rehabilitative courses. This said, there is no evidence that IPP sentences are more effective in terms of reducing crime or changing behaviour than determinate sentences. Importantly, even the minister who introduced the IPP sentence, David Blunkett, now campaigns for its abolition. The entire system is arbitrary. Arguably, prisoners under IPP should be released without delay, and certainly in advance of a resentencing exercise that, even if agreed, could take years to be completed. There is also a case for state reparations to be paid to those imprisoned beyond their tariff sentences. For more information on campaign groups working on behalf of people subject to these indeterminate sentences, go to UNGRIPP and IPP Committee in Action.